Jersey Reds go into the final weekend of the season in the ‘pinch yourself’ position of having a shot at a league and cup double.
The Reds travel to west London to face cup holders Ealing Trailfinders in what will be the fifth meeting between the sides across 2022/23.
The match comes just three weeks after a pivotal encounter at Stade Santander that effectively decided the destiny of the RFU Championship title. The Reds gained a decisive win in a tight game that finished 19-13, and were able to nail down top spot by winning their last game a week later.
Although the Championship honours were done-and-dusted by the end of April, there will be plenty at stake for teams who have two wins each in their encounters so far this season and will each want to finish on a high.
The Reds know that the challenge in achieving a potential double could scarcely be greater. Not only do Ealing have the chance to avenge the recent league defeat, but their home record is impressive, with the loss to Coventry in January the lone defeat in their last 20 competitive outings at Vallis Way.
The Londoners also have an impressive cup pedigree, winning the British & Irish Cup in 2017/18, as well as the Championship Cup in its two completed iterations in 2018/19 and last season. Just two of 36 matches have been lost during this run, both of them pool stage encounters won by the Reds, in November 2018 and February this year.
Having rotated the squad throughout the campaign, the Reds’ coaching team have had a different approach this week as a number of illness and injury victims have reduced the choices down to – in several cases – those who are fit and available.
Five new faces come into the starting line-up from the XV who began the 24-35 semi-final win over Cornish Pirates last Friday.
After making his 50th Reds’ appearance when coming off the bench at the Mennaye, Stevie Longwell is back at tight-head alongside Eoghan Clarke and Sam Grahamslaw, while the absence of four lock forwards means James Dun moves forward to partner James Scott in the engine room. This means Max Argyle, a replacement in Cornwall, will start in the back row alongside skipper Lewis Wynne – making his 25th competitive start of the season – and Alun Lawrence.
In the back-line, familiar rotation at scrum-half sees James Elliott in for James Mitchell, while Charlie Powell comes in at outside centre alongside Jordan Holgate and fly-half Russell Bennett makes his 26th start from the Reds’ 30 competitive outings this season, having also featured twice from the bench. The other change sees the return of Tomi Lewis at wing, the Welshman taking the place of Will Brown, who misses out through injury.
Two hookers are included on the bench, with James Hadfield standing by to show his versatility in other positions if required and TJ Harris in line for his first action since the first game of 2023, when he was hurt during the Reds draw at Coventry. Greg McGrath and Adam Nicol are the impact props, with back-five cover provided by Hal Chapman. Mitchell, Dan Barnes and Ryan Hutler are the three selected backs on the bench.
Hutler is one of four members of the squad set to play their final game for the Reds after it was announced he would leave the Island to join Coventry this summer. Lewis is set to return to the Scarlets after one season in Jersey, while Dun reaches the end of his season-long loan from Bristol Bears and will join the Gallagher Premiership side’s senior squad this summer. Harris is the other departure as he leaves the Island after four seasons to return to the Midlands and switch to part-time rugby alongside a new career as a quantity surveyor.
Although many supporters from Jersey and elsewhere have scrambled to secure transport to London for the big game, the unsatisfactory scheduling of back-to-back knock-out rounds has made this impossible for many at short notice, with their disappointment magnified by the fact that there will be no option for streaming the game. Radio coverage is set to be provided by BBC Jersey.
The two sides have now met 22 times in competitive encounters at level two dating back to 2013. The Reds have achieved four victories during this period, including the 35-7 league win on home turf in December 2015 and cup success at Vallis Way, by 34-41 in November 2018.
This season’s games saw two that went Ealing’s way on their home patch during the first half of the season: 22-13 in the cup in November and 43-22 in the Championship on Christmas Eve. These are the only defeats suffered by the Reds in competitive games do far this season, with the Island side then defeating their rivals in return matches at Stade Santander: a narrow 28-27 cup win in February and the 19-13 Championship victory three weeks ago.
Jersey Reds squad v Ealing Trailfinders (A) – 2022/23 RFU Championship Cup final, Trailfinders Sports Ground, Vallis Way, Saturday May 13th, k-o 2pm
Brendan Owen; Ben Woollett, Charlie Powell, Jordan Holgate, Tomi Lewis; Russell Bennett, James Elliott.
Sam Grahamslaw, Eoghan Clarke, Stevie Longwell, James Dun, James Scott, Max Argyle, Lewis Wynne (capt), Alun Lawrence.
TJ Harris, Greg McGrath, Adam Nicol, Hallam Chapman, James Hadfield; James Mitchell, Dan Barnes, Ryan Hutler.
18 May 2023
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